Thousands wait for repairs

16:00, Mar 26 2014
Peggy Holdthuson
STILL WAITING: Peggy Holdthuson, 90, wants her house fixed before she dies.

More than 800 vulnerable Canterbury earthquake claimants are still to be fully settled by insurers.

The Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) estimates, combined with outstanding Earthquake Commission (EQC) claims, reveal more than 5000 of the region's most at-risk residents are awaiting the repair or rebuild of their damaged homes.

ICNZ spokesman Samson Samasoni said yesterday about 4200 customers who met a "wide-ranging" criteria for vulnerability had been identified in June last year.

By the end of the year, the number to be settled had been reduced by 79 per cent.

"Collectively, we estimate there are over 800 still to have their claim completely closed but because they're over-cap repairs or rebuilds it takes time, anything from nine to 12 months. Obviously cash settlements are faster but it's up to the customer to decide what option they choose," he said.

"We also know that some are awaiting land settlement compensation before making decisions on the offer insurers have made, so that may be a stumbling block to resolving their claim quickly."


Insurers "actively and regularly" engaged with community groups were "working tirelessly to address the needs of vulnerable customers", Samasoni said.

EQC figures from February showed 4220 deemed vulnerable were awaiting repair and 866 were under construction. A further 7297 claims were settled.

Canterbury home repair programme manager Reid Stiven said that since mid-January about 1500 new vulnerable customers had been identified through work with health and social services.

"It's often very difficult to identify vulnerability, without the help of both the people themselves and the community, and we are continuing to push this message throughout Canterbury to ensure these customers are identified and subsequently, prioritised," he said.

Labour EQC spokesman Clayton Cosgrove said EQC had "dropped the ball", pointing to the recent of case of Christchurch pensioner Dot Boyd, whose claim fell through the cracks.

"That doesn't fill me full of a great deal of faith that they've identified all the vulnerable cases. Likewise, insurance companies in general have been found wanting," he said. Although accepting some claims were complex, Cosgrove said there were no excuses for delays in the vulnerable cases he knew of.

"Ring up, knock on doors, go out and see people. When they say, ‘Don't worry sonny, there's somebody worse off than me' say, ‘no, we've got some basic information now tell us exactly what's happening'. Be proactive and have an ethic of customer service. That would be a radical change for the insurance industry."

Southern Response confirmed 310 customers had been identified as vulnerable through a criteria that included age, health, stress, disability or an "inability to comprehend and other similar cognitive issues".

"We haven't found them all and we encourage customers who are vulnerable or know someone that is a Southern Response customer who is vulnerable to let us know," chief executive Peter Rose said.

Staff from Southern Response and project managers Arrow had received training to help identify such cases.

"Since last year we have identified [the vulnerable] need more support, often to make decisions, or comprehending the process. The issue has been where people cannot make decisions, but not already noted as vulnerable."

IAG did not provide specific figures, but spokeswoman Renee Walker said a "large percentage" of claims relating to vulnerable households had been settled.

However, "a number" with "complex" claims, including multi-unit buildings, were still working through a settlement process.

"One of the challenges setting priority based on vulnerability is that it does rely on a certain element of self-selection," Walker said.

"We can tell if a customer is elderly but we may not necessarily know if they have young children in the household, or health or financial pressures unless they tell us this."


Ninety-year-old Peggy Holdthuson has waited in limbo for three years for her cherished family home to be repaired - only to be told her insurance company had no idea her claim even existed.

She grew up in her parents' New Brighton home in the 1920s. She inherited the house when she got married, and brought up two daughters there.

Holdthuson has myriad health issues. She has fought and overcome cancer, she has been hospitalised twice for pneumonia in "the last few years", and she is now in hospital again for an unrelated illness.

She wants her home fixed for one reason.

"I want to see it fixed before I die."

Yet, she still waits.

Yesterday, when The Press approached her insurer, State Insurance, about why Holdthuson was still waiting, spokeswoman Renee Walker admitted the company did not know the claim had been passed to them by the Earthquake Commission (EQC).

"We have found out today that Peggy was actually paid a cap payment by EQC in June 2013 and has been waiting patiently for something to happen.

"Unfortunately we never received settlement notes from EQC, and therefore were not aware the claim was now over cap and ours to manage."

The insurance company has pledged to have contractors at her home this week.

An EQC spokeswoman said Holdthuson's claim was passed to State Insurance in the middle of last year.

Holdthuson felt the EQC and insurance companies in Christchurch were "pushing elderly aside", and she is not alone.

The Press has this week spoken to several elderly residents still waiting for fixes for their homes - believed to be a small portion of more than 85 elderly people EQC considered "vulnerable" suffering the same fate.

"I know I'm 90, but I'm still alert in my mind," Holdthuson said.

"They say they're helping the elderly, but they really aren't helping us at all."

After the February quake, Holdthuson's Baker St property was inundated with liquefaction. She said her house needed to be lifted for foundation repairs.

She said EQC initially told her the repairs would be done at the beginning of this year, but she has not heard back from them.

"I can't understand why I've had to wait all this time. I'm just wondering if it's because of my age that they're not going to fix my house."

She has two heat pumps in her house to keep warm, which come with a "huge" power bill. She receives Meals on Wheels and has a carer who helps her shower.

She now thinks EQC wants her to die so "they don't have to fix my house".

"All I want them to do is ring and say they'll do my house. I think I deserve to after all I've been through in my life."

She is now worried what might happen if she gets sick one time too many in the house.

"What worries me is if I get pneumonia again.

"I really want to live to see my house fixed."

Walker said Holdthuson's case highlighted the need to support the vulnerable.

"Now that we are aware of the claim we will prioritise the repair."

The Press